College spring break typically means students heading off for sun and fun, or home to see family and friends. For Sean Malloy, a Department of Physics major who just graduated, the weeklong break this past March was a chance to take part in climate change research on the Virginia coast.
The Hampton Roads area, like much of the Virginia coast, is experiencing highly unusual sea level rises, as shown by data collected by state and federal environmental scientists. But data is missing in part of the town of Hampton itself. D. Sarah Stamps, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences, wanted to remedy that gap. Hence, Stamps launched a “spring break camp” she called CODE-GEO — that’s short for Collecting Observations for Data Analysis and Encoding in the Geosciences — in an effort to get undergraduate students to install new GPS stations that can detect land subsidence.
Malloy, who has been working in undergraduate research with Stamps in geosciences, was quick to sign-up. “Her passion for her work, her success in her field and her motivation have inspired me in every aspect of my life,” Malloy said. “I learn in hands-on environments rather than classroom learning. The CODE-GEO camp was almost like a laboratory classroom, where you can see the processes and apply them immediately to understanding complex concepts.”
Stamps reached out to Zack Easton, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, and Bill Moore, professor at the historically black college Hampton University on the coast. (The latter came at the encouragement of Gary Glesener, a fellow faculty member and diversity advocate in Geosciences.)
Stamps and her team installed GPS units at Hampton University and the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton. The team immediately started tracking data. The expedition team included Stamps, Malloy, undergraduate student Antonio De Cecco of the Virginia Tech Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech Geosciences graduate student Josh Robert Jones, and two undergraduate students from Hampton University, Kendra Dorsey and Janelle Layton.
The student team made a research poster of their findings and presented it at an Institute for Creative Technology and Applied Sciences’ (ICTAS) Undergraduate Research Experience session at the Experiential Learning Conference. (ICTAS provided funding for the expedition.)
“There is a great growth opportunity in conducting an undergraduate research program that uses GPS positioning observations to address societal issues like land subsidence and sea-level rise,” Stamps said. “Both Hampton University and Virginia Tech can now expand their programs using CODE-GEO as a model for future project development.”